Tampa Bay Rays: A Flash of Who Logan Forsythe Could Have Been


Logan Forsythe‘s first season with the Tampa Bay Rays could have gone worse. He faltered entirely against right-handed pitching, managing just a .206/.279/.256 line, but he played fine (.708 OPS) against lefties and also played good defense at second base. He was going to be a lefty-mashing backup infielder, but that wasn’t such a bad thing. With the Rays having left-handed hitters like John Jaso, David DeJesus, Kevin Kiermaier, and James Loney on their team to start the year, it was going to be valuable to have a guy like Forsythe to replace them against lefty pitchers.

Then Nick Franklin got hurt, Forsythe was given the starting job at second base, and he has played out of his mind. Through 121 plate appearances, he has a .303/.372/.486 line (140 OPS+) with 9 doubles, 3 homers, and 15 RBI. He leads Rays qualifiers in batting average, slugging percentage, RBI, and hits while tying for the lead in doubles. He also ranks in the top three in walks, homers, OBP, and triples.

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Logan Forsythe is looking everything like the player that the San Diego Padres imagined when they selected him in the supplemental first round of the 2008 MLB Draft. At that time, scouts called him a potential average offensive third baseman with great plate discipline, a line-drive approach with some over-the-fence power, and excellent defensive tools at the hot corner. Of course, Forsythe has been playing primarily second base (which was mentioned as a possibility back then), but interestingly enough, he has gotten into a few games at third this season and looked quite good there as well.

How has Forsythe gotten to this point? His plate discipline has looked better as he has delivered his lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate of his major league career. His 17-11 strikeout to walk ratio is exponentially better than his 71-25 mark from last season or even his 57-28 mark from his best season, 2012. In addition, it is not as though he is just drawing walks. He is seeing more pitches and doing a better job finding offerings he can handle. He is hitting more balls in the air and hitting his flyballs harder than he did last season.

The most surprising part about Forsythe’s breakthrough is how good he has looked against right-handed pitching. He has a .324/.395/.426 line in 76 plate appearances, miles better than his .225/.294/.309 career line against them. It seemed crazy when the Tampa Bay Rays played Forsythe so much against righies last season, especially as Sean Rodriguez was hitting such pitchers much better. Now we can say that it all makes sense.

At the end of the day, though, we can talk about why Forsythe is playing so well but we don’t know whether it can last. There is a good chance that he will keep hitting lefties well and playing great defense, but has he really moved past all of his struggles against righties? Forsythe is 28 now, and while plenty of players break out in their primes, they usually don’t suddenly fix a seemingly irreparable flaw. There is a high probability that Forsythe will take a step back from his current pace against right-handed pitching, and the only question is how much he will fall.

Forsythe’s start to the season reminds me of two Rays pitchers. The first had been a first round pick and had been decent for a couple of seasons, but he had never been anything special and certainly hadn’t lived up to his draft slot. However, when the team needed him most as their other starters faltered and their playoff hopes slipped away, this pitcher stepped up and put up a 2.57 ERA for a 12-start span. He struck out double-digit batters three times, the only three such games of his career. But then he fell down to earth and still hasn’t looked like that again.

The other pitcher was also a first rounder, but people had lost faith in him. He had been considered one of the top prospects in baseball for years, but his arsenal had never developed as hoped and people saw him as move of a number four starter than the frontline pitcher he could have been. Everything changed, though, when he learned a new pitch, and he proceeded to get nearly everyone who had doubted him back on the bandwagon again. People suddenly believed that his upside was once again within reach.

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The first pitcher is Jeff Niemann, and the stretch I mentioned occurred in 2011. The second is Jake Odorizzi (as I’m sure many of you figured out as soon as I mentioned the “new pitch”). They represent two explanations for a former first round pick suddenly fulfilling his promise. The first is just a few flashes of brilliance, a stretch that can’t really be explained by anything but makes you just hope that it can last. The second is an actual adjustment, one good enough that the league can’t quickly counteract it. Under which category does Forsythe’s breakthrough fall under?

There is no obvious difference for Logan Forsythe other than the fact that he is playing better. He could be drawing walks just because he is seeing the ball well, and his plate discipline statistics haven’t gotten much better according to Fangraphs. You can eyeball his spray chart, but there is no obvious shift–he is hitting the ball to the same places, and he is just hitting it a little bit harder. Eventually the league will adjust or he will lose his timing, and then maybe he will be hitting the ball with just as much (or as little) authority as he did last season.

All we can say right now is that Forsythe is looking like the player that evaluators had expected him to be in the past, and the Tampa Bay Rays will appreciate it as long as it lasts. Forsythe needs to be hitting something like this a month or two from now for us to believe that this is much than just a spark of his promise, but it has been years since he looked anywhere near this good. There is a chance that he truly has broken through, and we never could have imagined saying that as he struggled last season.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Richie Shaffer Continues Strong Start